Concord, NC — Racing Community Remembers Car Owner David Helm
In a sport where standing out in a crowd is a way to get ahead, David Helm never sought the spotlight. Instead, one of the most humble men in sprint car racing became one of its most respected car owners.
Helm, who lost his battle with illness over the weekend, quietly became one of sprint car racing’s leaders. Running his No. 11H team out of Selma, Calif., Helm first raced regionally in California before eventually taking the team on the road with the World of Outlaws.
While the team had many victories, perhaps its most cherished win came just a week ago at Volusia Speedway Park when Kerry Madsen drove the Selma Shell Maxim to the checkered flag. Helm was in the hospital, but the news of his team’s victory lifted his spirits.
“Dave gave it everything he could,” said Sonny Kratzer, Helm’s long-time friend and team manager. “He made it a lot longer than any doctor thought it would go. I can tell you the win the young men pulled off in Florida, he told everybody about it. He had a picture of the racecar up in his room. After they won, he told everybody, ‘My car won in Florida and those boys did a great job.’”
Madsen, who took over the driving duties in the middle of the 2006 season, was still getting to know Helm when he earned the win.
“I talked to Dave that morning and you could tell he was really struggling,” Madsen said. “He called me after the win and he was like a kid in a candy store, talking 100 miles an hour. Sonny told me what that win meant to both of them.”
That most likely was one of the few times Helm allowed himself to get excited. He was known for being balanced. He never got too high or too low, and that’s illustrated through some of the stories told by those who knew him best.
“About 10 years ago at Eldora during the Kings Royal weekend we were leaving the race track and it had rained all night,” Kratzer said. “I don’t think we left the race track until 3 in the morning. We were the first truck to go out the gate and the truck never made it. It slid back down the hill and the back of the trailer knocked the fence down. It tore up the truck and everything in it. We didn’t have a top wing, we didn’t have a front wing. The mule was sitting up on top of the racecar. We had to cut the back door to get it open. By the time we got up out of the racetrack and had the thing up on top where we could get unhooked from the truck, it had to be 5 a.m. In all this mess, Dave hadn’t said a word. The first words out of his mouth weren’t, ‘You tore all my stuff up.’ He looked at all these people sitting around in the pit area and said, ‘Aw Sonny. We’re going to have these guys mad at us.’ I said, ‘Dave, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to be mad at us when they see the mess we’ve got going here.’ He said, ‘I feel bad for these guys because they can’t get out.’ I said, ‘Do you want to race tomorrow or do you want us to get everything fixed?’ He said, ‘We came all this way, let’s race.”
As Kratzer and the team was trying to get a car together to compete, Helm was up sitting on a four-wheeler giving away to kids some of the items destroyed in the incident. He gave one kid a broken wing and signed the driver’s name on it because the driver wasn’t around.
“Dave’s the kind of guy that you’re glad you met,” Kratzer said. “Years later, you can say, ‘Hey man, I really had a great time with Dave.’ I don’t think the man ever said a cross word to anybody or ever made a driver or anybody who was working for us feel unwelcome.”
His loss will be felt throughout sprint car racing.
“David’s passion for the sport touched everybody who was around him,” said DIRT MotorSports President and CEO Tom Deery. “No doubt his enthusiasm will be greatly missed.”
Charlie Garrett is one of those people Helm touched. Garrett built the motors for Helm’s cars and the two became fast friends.
“Dave would come in here to my shop and it was always special because he was such a down-to-earth person,” Garrett said. “I’ve worked for a lot of people in this business and he’s got to be the best person I’ve ever worked for, friend-wise and business-wise. You meet a lot of people and every once in a while in your life, this special guy comes along. He was that special guy. He never complained about anything. He was just that type of guy. He was just such a humble individual. It’s hard to put it all in words. He was a great friend and a tremendous person to do business with. I doubt I’ll ever meet another person like him. I know racing has lost a good man. At least I had the experience of being with him.”
Growing up and racing in California, Paul McMahan knew Helm long before either began racing nationally. Eventually, McMahan would climb into Helm’s car on the World of Outlaws circuit.
“I knew Dave even before I drove for him,” McMahan said. “I raced against his cars every Saturday night in Hanford, Calif. He was just one of those guys who would help anybody. He was a friendly individual. There wasn’t a guy in the pit area that could say they had a problem with Dave Helm.
“He never got upset about anything. He would take the good with the bad. The thing I recall the most is we were at Calistoga Speedway. We were in third and Joey Saldana was in second. He lost a muffler and I ran over it and backed into the fence and destroyed his racecar. It was a brand new racecar, only two nights on it. Dave says, “Hey, are you OK?” It was no big thing. The very next race we run is the Gold Cup at Chico and we win a preliminary night. Dave never got excited. He took the good with the bad so well.
“When I got hurt at Knoxville, here I am laying in the hospital and he wasn’t worried about who he was going to put in the racecar, he was at the hospital every day with me to make sure I was OK. When it came down to finding a driver — we had to put a driver in it because of the points situation we were in — he left it up to me, he wanted me to feel comfortable with whomever was in that racecar. That’s who Dave was.”
The Selma Shell Racing team already was a motivated bunch this season. No doubt it will be aiming for another victory in Helm’s honor.
“The only thing I feel bad about is that he was really looking forward to this year,” Kratzer said. “I’m sure wherever he is, he’ll be keeping an eye on us because that’s the kind of guy he is.”
The viewing will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday night at Page Funeral Chapel in Selma.
The funeral service will be at 9 a.m. Friday at First Baptist Church in Selma. It will be followed by a reception at the Selma Portuguese Hall. There will be a graveside service with military honors at 1 p.m.